Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vigilant Legislators Bivouac in Duma

The Communists in the State Duma have decided it's too dangerous to go on vacation.

The Duma let out for the summer on Friday, and most of the deputies are off to their regions, their dachas, and the beach until September. At the lower house of parliament, the corridors are nearly empty and the hearing chamber is locked.

But in stuffy offices, about 30 Communists are busy with paperwork, telephone calls, visitors, committee meetings and planning for December elections.

The reason: Threats to ban the Communist Party and remove Lenin from his mausoleum for reburial are echoing from the Kremlin. And fearing dirty tricks from their archenemy, President Boris Yeltsin, the ever-vigilant Communists arerefusing to abandon their fortress on Okhotny Ryad.

"We have compiled our vacation list so that a minimum of 30 people will be keeping an eye on things at all times," Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party, said at a news conference last week.

Zyuganov, always in the vanguard, took the first vacation. He promptly headed off for his native Oryol region in Central Russia when the chamber broke up for the summer last Friday. He left his No. 2, Valentin Kuptsov, to hold the fort.

A Communist spokeswoman read out Tuesday's watch list: "Gubenko is here. Zorkaltsev, Viktor Ilyich is here. Kuvayev is conducting an event. Kuptsov is here. Lukyanov is holding a seminar for young lawyers. Melnikov is here. Nikiforenko is here. Podberyozkin, Alexei Ivanovich is here."

They received the summer's first volley from the Kremlin on Tuesday, when Yeltsin dressed down Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov for failing to find legal violations during a Kremlin-ordered investigation of the Communist Party.

Yeltsin said he ordered Krasheninnikov to investigate "constitutional violations" by the party. But Krasheninnikov's investigation turned up no violations f and Yeltsin said that wasn't good enough.

"I never got information about those violations," Interfax quoted Yeltsin as saying to the justice minister. "I never got information about the completion of the president's task. I don't work this way."

Krasheninnikov, in his turn, informed reporters Tuesday that he had the power to "take action" against the Communist Party "to prevent outbursts of political extremism," Itar-Tass reported.

Harassing the Communists is a favorite sport in the Kremlin, and the president's circle has been especially active in recent weeks, dropping hints that it just might be time to bury the body of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin.

But a ban on the Communist Party f which many Communists say is the fondest wish of Yeltsin f would be the most devastating step. If the Communists were banned, that would exclude the party f which leads opinion polls f from elections to the State Duma, scheduled for December.

That would all but erase their chances to win presidential elections next June. And since the party depends on an ageing electorate, many observers view the upcoming elections as their last, best chance.

In their offices f which lack air conditioning f deputies fumed at Yeltsin's latest dig.

"It's very useful for the presidential structures, the country's acting authorities, to whip up psychosis and an unstable situation in which you could forbid any party with opposition views," said Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin.

"It's a secret to no one that a decree banning the Communist Party is already prepared, as well as a decree dissolving the Duma," Ilyukhin added. He said he expected those decrees, along with the alleged secret program to bury Lenin, would be put into action toward the end of July or beginning of August.

By then, the International Monetary Fund is expected to decide whether to issue new credits to Russia. Many Duma deputies believe if the decision is no, the Kremlin will punish the Duma, which killed an IMF-desired gasoline tax.

And so, even at night, someone keeps watch in Zyuganov's office.

"We always have to keep an eye on the situation, which can take sudden turns, because our head of state is like that," said another Communist deputy, Yury Nikiforenko. "He constantly acts unilaterally, without thinking. He's a bull in a china shop."

Some observers simply write off this summer's regime of ***dezhurstvo***, or standing watch, as a publicity stunt, since the Communists have yet to explain how they would prevent Yeltsin from decreeing a ban on the party or locking the Duma doors.

Such a standoff would recall October 1993, when leftist and nationalist deputies barricaded themselves in the White House after Yeltsin ordered the Supreme Soviet, the holdover Soviet parliament, dissolved.Yeltsin used tanks to dislodge them.

The Communists' allies agree that Yeltsin is unpredictable, but even they find camping out in the Duma a bit extreme.

"This is just politics," said a spokesman for the Communist-allied Popular Rule group, rolling his eyes. Popular Rule has mostly cleared out for the summer, he added. "We take care of politics in our regions, and we take care of Duma business in the Duma. We're not involved in this dezhurstvo."

The other leftist group, the Agrarians, have a simpler quick-response plan: Agrarian deputies would just come back from their vacations in an emergency.

Even among Communists f who have the best attendance record in the Duma anyway f deputies' vigilance has been found wanting.

"I don't know anything about this," said Vadim Filimonov, a senior Communist and a leader of the recent failed attempt to impeach Yeltsin. "I just got back from a business trip in Europe."